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Fiction

March 09, 1986|TED C. SIMMONS

1933 WAS A BAD YEAR by John Fante (Black Sparrow: $14, hardcover; $8.50, paperback). Meet Cominick: Call him Dom, or better yet, Ishmael. He's trapped in Nowheresville, U.S.A., in the midst of the Depression; it's winter and Papa, an umpteenth-generation bricklayer from Abruzzi, hasn't worked in five months. Things are grim--no, worse: Papa's a lowlifer now . . . a hustler shooting pool. It's slim pickings for he's no Minnesota Fats. So Mama, who believes in the efficacy of prayer and nothing else, is busy intoning her novenas so that Sonny can have a suit for high school graduation come spring.

At this moment, young Dom, trudging home through a snowstorm, suddenly stops in his tracks, takes stock of his prospects. Result: anomie . . . a paroxysm of paranoia. God has abandoned him. Papa is about to trowel him into a purgatory of bricklaying; Mama--poor Mama, busy wearing out her rosary--is of no help.

But wait! This is a kid with a golden arm . . . star pitcher. A comer! The Dream drops out of a convenient cloud . . . falls gently to Earth . . . a snowflake. One day: baseball's Hall of Fame. He's got to break loose. His ego's back in place, so expansive that he could lay up a brick monument to himself. . . . The snowflake melts. . . . Then enough self-hatred to blast it to bits. Face it, kid, you're from the wrong side of the tracks, freckled as an overripe banana, ears like a bunny, and but 5 feet 4. What chance does such a runt have in the Big League? Life?. . .

Whither then, O Dom, O Ishmael? Stasis?

At this point, dear reader, I turn you over to our novelist who moves the story through ever-widening landscapes . . . into humor, lust, uglies, youth's sweet agonies, and the how-it-was for the fathers and sons of 1933. John Fante, himself, has a good arm. This work for me, though, has the musty odor of old American Mercurys . . . Collier's. And is that Joyce Carol Oates, in pigtails, wringing her hands; Beckett looking glum . . . strains of Guy Lombardo?

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